He is being succeeded as head of Fry’s international operations by Aidan Bailey, who has himself been with the company for 18 years, and who returned to the UK from Fry’s Singapore office last year, after a decade there, to prepare to take Barnes’s place.
Those who know him say Barnes’s lanky, 6ft 2in presence will be much missed in industry circles, and not just because of his generous and gentle nature, mind for business and razor-sharp wit. For unlike many who talk about the importance of looking after clients, Barnes is known for his fervent belief in practicing what he preaches.
For his part, Barnes – who has never been one to keep quiet on the subject of undisclosed commissions and other dirty secrets of the offshore advisory world – is not going quietly. This is perhaps not surprising for a man whose father was a policeman, and who, having recently moved with his wife to central London after 22 years in Sussex, where Fry is based, has been preparing in recent weeks for a post-retirement career as a London magistrate. (He was sworn in at the Old Bailey on 12 March.)
For example, when asked how the industry has changed in the three decades since he joined Fry’s Exeter office in 1982, after 10 years with other financial services businesses, he responds that he doesn’t think the industry has changed “anything like enough”.
“There are still commission-hungry advisers out there who are still selling commission-heavy products,” he grumbles. “I still see clients being ripped off in the same way by the same type of product.”
And even when they’re not being overcharged on commissions, Barnes says, they’re often being put into high-cost products, when the same result could be achieved for less.
“There’s no reason why the equity content of a portfolio, say, would be any better or worse because it was an odd collection of unit trusts, a multi-manager fund, an OEIC, or sat on a platform,” he notes. “But the costs of each of these will be hugely different. So attacking those costs is really important, especially at a time when it’s difficult to generate returns on the stock market.”
Also contrary to many of his industry colleagues, Barnes believes QROPS are being oversold, and although Fry does recommend them, he says it is only in rare instances in which the circumstances make them the correct solution.
“Am I a big fan of QROPS? It’s like asking me if I’m a big fan of scalpels. No, I’m not,” he continues, embarking on what those who know him well would say is sure to be a typical Barnesian analogy (which it turns out to be).
“If I need an operation, would I want the surgeon, operating on me, to use one? ‘Yes please’. But I wouldn’t keep one in my cupboard. [Like QROPS], a scalpel is not generally useful. In the right circumstances, though, it is.”
Fry was founded 114 years ago in London as a tax consultancy by Wilfred T Fry, and in addition to several UK offices and the one in Singapore, currently has outposts as well in Hong Kong and Cyprus. Recently the privately-held firm acquired the share of Brussels-based Fulcra International Financial Planning that it did not already own, and is in the process of re-branding that Benelux-focused business as Fry.
Bailey, who is more reserved than Barnes, admits that his departing boss is a hard act to follow, but he nevertheless exudes quiet confidence. He says his priority this year will be overseeing the changeover of the Brussels business to become fully integrated with Fry’s systems – which include platforms and back office networks – after which his attention will turn to considering whether the offshore business should add additional offices, and if so, where.
“It’s the future [having offices in foreign jurisdictions popular with expatriates], and strategically, for us, it’s Europe and Asia, as this is where we have an existing presence that we can build from.
“The reasons for having an office include the fact that from a regulatory point of view, it’s harder to do business in different jurisdictions if you’re not based there; and people don’t like it when you’re popping in and popping out, because they feel that they’ve got no control over what you’re doing.
“And just having an office in a place increases your visibility, from a marketing point of view, and thus your turnover, as we’ve seen in Singapore over the last 10 years.”